I started playing snooker when I was 8 years old, I received a 6-foot table for Christmas from my mum and dad. I started noticing very quickly that I was getting very good and was addicted to the game after about three months.
My dad and granddad started taking me down to the local club when I was about 10 years old and the owner noticed I had a bit of talent for the game, I was very lucky as the owner of the club offered me unlimited free practice and I took full advantage of the offer and started going down about five nights a week, after a lot of hard work and dedication I was club champion by the age of 13 and knocking in my first century just before my 13th birthday.
By the age of 14 I was ranked No 1 in the Scottish under 16s and dominating the game at this level, I was then ranked No1 in the Scottish under 19s at the age of 15 and then a certain John Higgins came along and stole my number 1 ranking.
I started climbing the rankings in the Scottish Amateurs and got myself into the top 10 just before I turned pro I reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Amateur which was a great achievement for me at the time because the standard in Scotland was so high in fact I would have to say the standard was at professional level with about 20 to 30 great players in Scotland at this time, so I signed off my amateur career on a high.
I turned pro when I was 16, this was when World Snooker opened the game up to anyone who wanted to pay £2000 and could call themselves professional snooker players, there was one problem though! I had a job working for the Royal Bank of Scotland and wasn’t practising properly as I didn’t have the time.
I was going to Bolton, Sheffield and Aldershot for qualifying and couldn’t win a match, I was putting this down to a lack of practice and preparation, then the snooker Gods were looking down on me, my manager said to me that if I give up my job in the bank then he would give me £100 a week, well I bit his hand off at the offer and I had my dream of being a full-time professional snooker player.
Within 3 months of being a full-time professional player, I won 9 matches in a row in qualifying for the Embassy World Snooker Championships where I went on to defeat Doug Mountjoy 10-7 in round 1 at the Crucible to become the youngest player ever to win a match at the Crucible on their debut. I went out in round 2 to Dene O’Kane 13-10, that result put me to 78 in the world rankings from a position of about 800 so this was to stand me in good stead for the future.
The very next season I went on to win the Benson and Hedges Championship which in today’s climate is the equivalent of winning a PTC as it was a minor-ranking event, I beat Alan McManus 9-1 in the final, Lawrie Annandale who was refereeing the match said it was a top 8 performance so I was pleased to hear that coming from a top referee.
I then had a couple of lean years as I had changed cues but consolidated my place in the top 70 players.
The next season which was in 1995 I went to qualifiers in Blackpool and won 31 out of 34 matches which got me in the top 64 in the world which was my target for the season.
A few months later I beat Stephen Hendry 5-1 in the quarter-finals of the Regal Welsh, eventually going out 6-1 in the semi-finals to John Higgins. I went on to reach 2 other world ranking semi-finals and found myself hovering around the top 20 players in the world, in fact I found myself ranked number 20,19,18,18,17 for 5 seasons in a row which was quite frustrating as I thought I was never going to reach my goal of being a member of the World’s elite top 16.
The year 2000 was a bad year for me my back and my neck were starting to get so sore I knew there was something seriously wrong, I went to a private hospital and within days I had been diagnosed with a spinal disease called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I will never forget the doctors words, he said ‘Just hang up your cue, you can’t play with this condition’ Well if I had listened to that doctor’s advice then I would have lost out on my 2 dreams that I had still to achieve, this is where my determination and positive thinking kicked in.
The 2002 season was kicking off and my confidence was quite low, I was at a lowly 36 in the world provisionally with my back problems getting in the way of things and the LG Cup was about to start. My specialist pumped me full of steroid jabs for the tournament and I felt like a new man, my attitude was that my health was fine so I could now just concentrate on playing snooker and having faith in my ability.
I remember the tournament starting and I beat Mark Davis 5-0 but didn’t feel confident or good about my game, I then beat Joe Perry 5-2 to reach the last 16 and something clicked, I felt great about my health, my game and my confidence was back, I then proceeded to phone home and tell my wife Clare (Pictured above) that I was going to win the tournament and she just said take one game at a time afterall I was just at the last 16 stage where I was due to play John Higgins and if I got past John I was due to meet Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Something inside told me I was winning it and I was right, I beat John 5-1 and then beat Ronnie 5-1 and went on to beat Alan McManus 9-5 in the final. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, achieving my dream of winning a world ranking event.
I could have done back to back tournaments but in the next event I went out in the semi-final stage 6-3 to Paul Hunter, this enabled me to get my highest ranking of 12 and achieve my other dream of being a member of the world’s top 16.
In 2004 my back deteriorated dramatically and I had a disastrous season and my last match as a professional was at the Crucible when I lost in round 1 to Shaun Murphy who then went on to win it in 2005.
Looking back at my career I was proud of my achievements, considering what I had to go through and I have no regrets because I know I gave it everything I had and could do no more. I would like to finish by saying the same effort will go into my coaching skills and lessons and give all my clients 100% focus and attention.